New watchdog organization aims to eliminate ‘municipal madness’ across Ontario & Canada
(The Pointer files)

New watchdog organization aims to eliminate ‘municipal madness’ across Ontario & Canada

Canadian municipalities have an accountability problem. 

Systems designed to prevent corruption, mitigate conflicts of interest and ensure politicians are not abusing the tax dollars of the residents who elected them are falling far short. 

In Ontario, the clown car of scandals would be comical if the sheer amount of waste these controversies accumulated was not consistently harming the quality of life for people in municipalities across the province. 

In Collingwood, the sale of a power utility saw the mayor’s brother and chief political adviser earn over $1 million in contracts and “success fees”, leading to a two-year judicial inquiry and OPP investigation. In Oshawa, the City’s auditor general attempted to warn council they were about to overpay for a multi-million dollar piece of land to house a new works depot—while the auditor was being harassed by the city manager to bury the information. Council eventually blocked the report from being made public and went forward with the purchase, which led to what would be more at home on an episode of Jerry Springer than in the city hall of one of the GTA’s major cities. Protesting residents were tackled inside the council chambers by plain-clothed police officers, sending chairs and expletives flying. 


The scene inside City of Oshawa council chambers in September 2013 following a contentious auditor general’s report and the efforts by a bloc of councillors to suppress the findings.

(Screengrab from Youtube) 


The City of North Bay paid more than $400,000 over two years to a former CAO who then worked as a “corporate advisor”. It was reported by CTV that “no evidence” could be found of him ever doing any work for the City in that role. The municipality also handed $1.2 million in contracts to a marketing firm that had run the last three campaigns for the City’s mayor. 

In Niagara Region, the Ontario Ombudsman labelled a hiring scandal an “Inside Job” as employees colluded to get their preferred candidate the Region’s top job. Three individuals involved in that scandal were then hired by the City of Brampton under Mayor Patrick Brown, who had direct political ties to two of them. 

Forgery and fraud under former mayor Joe Fontana in London. Conflicts of interest in Mississauga under the late mayor Hazel McCallion involving votes she took related to her son’s proposed development project (she was later cleared but found to have broken “common law principles”); former Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson took votes to speed up development while he was selling his family land in the same area for more than $9 million; former Brampton mayor Susan Fennell charged taxpayers for flights including fares for her husband and friends to Florida where she owned a condo at the time. Her staff used City credit cards to pay for personal jewelry and family flights, while Fennell drove a taxpayer-funded Lincoln Navigator SUV and had a 24/7 on-call limousine service that cost Brampton taxpayers almost $50,000 a year, on top of the luxury vehicle. Fennell charged tens of thousands of dollars to taxpayers for first-class travel; lavish hotels; questionable fuel costs; high-end dining in a number of cities; and numerous other excessive expenditures. 

Then there’s Brampton’s current Mayor, Patrick Brown. After winning the job in 2018, he hired the men involved in the Niagara “Inside Job” scandal, including Jason Tamming, who the Ombudsman found to have behaved corruptly (he secretly provided the questions and answers to his preferred CAO candidate, then misled the Ombudsman about his actions). After Tamming departed the City last year, during an effort by a majority of councillors to probe hiring and procurement practices under Brown’s leadership, he was recently rehired now that Brown has retaken control of Council once again. With Tamming resuming his role as head of communications for The City of Brampton, a position he previously used to make blatantly misleading claims regarding his actions in Niagara, The Pointer will continue to report on his corrupt conduct detailed in the Ontario Ombudsman’s public “Inside Job” report.

Niagara Region eventually sued Tamming and another man at the centre of the scandal, Robert D’Amboise, for a combined $350,000 (both were hired in Brampton under Brown). 

The Pointer’s reporting has uncovered scandals and misuse of tax dollars under Brown’s leadership, including ordering staff to work on the leadership campaign of Peter MacKay during municipal work hours; handing a close political ally hundreds of thousands of dollars for a failed university project with some of the work never completed; charging Brampton residents for social media promotion during his failed bid to become the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (a race he was disqualified from for alleged misconduct in his campaign practices that are currently under investigation); and handing a lucrative contract for a proposed Municipal Development Corporation to a close friend with no experience in the area—to name a few.

The Pointer has been informed by numerous residents that complaints about Brown’s conduct have been filed with the Ontario Ombudsman, but the office has taken no action. When councillors previously requested the Ombudsman to investigate numerous allegations against Brown that whistleblowers, including at least one former senior staff member, Nikki Kaur (who was fired after she ran against Brown in the October municipal election), brought forward the Ombudsman advised Council to take its own action. 

When they followed the direction last year, ordering about a half-dozen external investigations into Brown and hiring and procurement activities under his leadership, he later abruptly cancelled all of them when he had enough votes, calling a snap August meeting to pull the plug, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars already spent on the incomplete third-party probes, which had to be abandoned due to Brown’s interference.

The Ombudsman stated previously that only after Council attempts to use its own accountability powers will the provincial watchdog step in. Despite the efforts of Council last year to use its powers, only to be cut down by Brown, who was at the centre of the investigations he cancelled, and then despite former councillor Jeff Bowman travelling to Queen’s Park specifically to ask the Ombudsman to finally intervene, no such action has been taken.



From big city to small town, from urban metropolis to rural township, there are stories of sweetheart deals, collusion and in some cases criminal behaviour.

The stories seem like something out of the wild west. 

But they are happening now and in recent years. 

Taxpayer dollars are wasted and abused, while elected officials distracted by scandals of their own making neglect critical decision-making to advance the interests of those same taxpayers who put them in power. 

Despite all the controversies outlined above taking place over the last decade, the accountability mechanisms that are currently in place—auditor generals, integrity commissioners, the Ontario Ombudsman—have failed to force any real change. This was pointed out by Justice Frank Marrocco in his probe of the allegations of wrongdoing in Collingwood.

“Many of the matters addressed in my recommendations are referred to in legislation, have been commented on in previous inquiries and their recommendations, or have been discussed at length in academic and professional writing and are subject to ongoing efforts to improve municipal governance. Despite these efforts, the same issues arise,” Justice Marrocco wrote. 

A new organization, led by a former Mississauga MP, wants to eliminate this “municipal madness” and help residents across the country hold their local officials accountable for their actions. 

“So many people are upset and concerned about the things their local councils are doing, but I’m finding out that they feel powerless, they just don’t know what to do about it and there doesn’t appear to be any organized effort, until now, to fight back,” Stella Ambler, founder of Municipal Watch, tells The Pointer. “There is a lot that we need to get together and push back on.”

Launched on January 30, Ambler wants Municipal Watch to become the support system for citizen resistance taking place in municipalities across the country. Oftentimes these citizen groups are small, dedicated individuals trying to raise awareness about issues impacting their own communities. Ambler says they have few places to turn to try and amplify their concerns, opening the door for local councils to dismiss their complaints as simply the voice of a few disgruntled residents. 

“What we want to do is help people who don’t feel like they have any say, have a say, and give them the tools to help them communicate their concerns.”


Stella Ambler, the founder of Municipal Watch has spent over 30 years in politics, both behind the scenes and one term as an MP for Mississauga South (now Mississauga-Lakeshore).



This support could come in many iterations, Ambler explains, from emails and letters directly to local officials, widespread social media campaigns to raise awareness about a particular issue, or delegating directly to a council that is facing questions of failed leadership from community members. 

“As a former elected official, I know what makes politicians sit up and take notice,” Ambler says. “We can help get that message out far and wide that this is happening, and a lot of times when there is a groundswell of support for something the official report doesn’t matter anymore, the politicians will be forced to do what is right.”

Looking to assist municipalities across Canada is an immense task, with more than 3,500 local governments across the country. Ontario has 444 municipalities. Ambler is aware she could be setting herself up to be buried under an avalanche of resident complaints from across Canada, but concluded that casting the Municipal Watch net wider was a better strategy than limiting efforts to Ontario. 

“In a way I do realize that this could become more than one person can handle, but what I envision is actually creating groups of people who are doing what I’m doing as well,” she says, noting there are benefits to being able to let municipalities across Canada know what others are doing. “If Vancouver does something ridiculous then Halifax might hear about it through Municipal Watch and say ‘oh we better not make that same mistake.’”

According to Ambler, funding for the organization comes from businesses and individuals from across Canada “who believe that municipal governments spend too much, and get involved in issues that are not their jurisdiction”.

Ambler has been involved in politics in one form or another for over 30 years, including time as a staffer at Queen’s Park, and one term as Conservative MP for Mississauga South (now Mississauga-Lakeshore) under former prime minister Stephen Harper. 

While there is official opposition built into the systems of government at the provincial and federal levels, Ambler says the absence of such a system can hinder accountability at the local level. It allows local politicians to operate in a bubble of their own creation, listening only to one another and supportive voices, simply disregarding the voices of residents that disagree.

“There’s no-one in their other ear, saying you’ve haven’t thought this through and you haven’t spoken to the people you serve,” Ambler says. “There’s a certain way of looking down on people who don’t agree with you and because they don’t have the same communication skills that you might have or the same resources to get their message out—this really is about people who don’t have voices.”

The formation of Municipal Watch comes at a time when efforts by the provincial government have been slowly removing the democratic rights of residents to participate in the decision making of their local governments. Through the use of Minister’s Zoning Orders, the PCs have pushed through development applications with no consultation from the local communities and most recently, Bill 23 has removed the right of residents to appeal development applications to the Ontario Land Tribunal, previously the last olive branch available to residents to push back against proposals they see as unfit for their local neighbourhoods. The legislation also allows motions to pass with just one-third support at council for matters related to the PC government’s priorities. Strong mayor powers for Ottawa and Toronto could also be spread to other large cities, further eroding democratic decision making at the local level of government. 

Traditionally, the municipal level of politics is the one that receives the least amount of attention from residents—despite it impacting people’s lives most directly—resulting in abysmal voter turnouts across Ontario that have been consistently declining in recent years. Data from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario found that approximately 36 percent of voters in 301 municipalities that held elections in October turned out to vote. 

For Ambler, these numbers are not indicative of a lack of engagement, but a byproduct of the failed accountability mechanisms at the local level that allow the same politicians returning to office again and again, despite questionable decision-making throughout their career. 

“People feel like why bother?...It makes no difference, the same people get in and the same people do the same things they’ve always done and they don’t listen to me,’” Ambler says. But by increasing the power of local citizens to hold officials accountable, it could result in more people getting engaged. 

“It is our mission in the coming months to grow our support and donor base, to become a true national voice to provide Canadians with oversight that has been lacking at the municipal level of government.”

More information about Municipal Watch can be found on the organization’s website


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JoeljWittnebel

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